The lack of international free agent talent developed by the Detroit Tigers over the last decade or more remains one of the least talked about of their major organizational flaws. Sunday, the club will announce their new class of teenaged prospects on International Signing Day, but new President of Baseball Operations Scott Harris and his rebuilt front office may not have much impact on the matter this year.
Most of the agreements for the top players are made well in advance, often when they’re as young as 13 or 14 years old. So at least in terms of the projected top free agents this period, nothing was likely to change with Harris only taking over in September. There are sometimes surprises, but presumably the Tigers will be signing the players they’ve had handshake agreements with for some time, like everyone else. MLB Pipeline and publications like Baseball America have the reporting well in advance.
So it may be a while until Harris has a big impact on this aspect of operations. Still it will be interesting to see the Tigers new front office’s approach to spreading out their bonus pool. Heading into Sunday’s signing day, the club is currently linked to four young players who all show up on Baseball America or MLB Pipeline’s top international prospect lists, but none are near the top of those rankings.
Tigers 2023 international signing class
The Tigers will be one of eight teams with the biggest bonus pools to spend on international talent. They’ll have $6,366,900 to allocate overall. The club isn’t linked to any of MLB Pipeline’s top 30 international prospects this time around. Perhaps they means they won’t be giving out the kind of deals Santana and Campos received, and may spread the pool money around a little more, but we’ll have to wait to hear the numbers when the signings are announced.
The top prospect the Tigers are expected to sign is 18-year-old Venezuelan catcher, Enrique Jimenez. Baseball America has him ranked 32nd overall, with a good likelihood to stick and develop at the catcher position, and a compact stroke from both sides of the plate that should build power as he adds muscle to his 5’10” frame.
Scouts highest on Jimenez also liked his hitting ability as a switch-hitter with a short swing that works well, allowing him to spread the ball around the field with gap power that’s trending up.
Next up is Cristian Perez, a speedy, right-handed hitter outfielder from the Dominican Republic. Perez only turned 16 in August, so he’s one of the younger players in the class. Baseball America ranks him 38th overall.
The third player tied to the Tigers is ranked 39th. Switch-hitting Venezuelan outfielder Anibal Salas carries plus speed and power potential. The 17-year-old has serious upside as a power hitting center fielder with a strong throwing should things come together for him.
This is Anibal Salas OF 2022 (15 years old) one of the many kids that stood out during last weeks Dream Team Showcase in Colombia. Salas is a switch hitter that showed power/ hitting ability during games. Also threw 100,97,95,95 from the outfield.@FlatgroundBats @BenBadler pic.twitter.com/weztsIDTVE— Fabian Depablos (@fabiandepab) July 26, 2021
Finally, MLB Pipeline notes Venezuelan infielder Maikol Orozco as having plenty of interest from the Tigers. They have him ranked 44th overall, but there are some very positive notes about his mature approach and all fields power.
What we know is that the offensive-minded prospect is going to hit. There’s a ton of projection with his hit tool in large part because of his advanced approach at the plate and ability to drive the ball to all fields. The ball jumps off of his bat, and he consistently makes hard contact.
That certainly sounds promising.
Obviously, with the youth of these players, prospect rankings matter even less than they do for current minor league players. But if you choose to care about this too much, be comforted by the fact that the Tigers are linked to three of Baseball America’s top 40. That’ll have to be good enough until we see them debut at the A-ball levels in a few years. Assuming the Tigers are spreading their pool around a little more broadly this time, there should be several other signings of note tomorrow as well.
The Tigers have to improve here
The Tigers didn’t have much success in the international market under Dave Dombrowski, and things were even less promising early in Al Avila’s tenure. We have to go back to Willy Adames in 2012 for a prospect that made a big impact at the major league level. For most of that time, it just wasn’t a priority as the Tigers had all their money on the major league field. However, when the bonus pool system was instituted in 2017 they did change course. Consistently holding one of the largest bonus pools, they flexed their muscle a bit to land some of the better players for large bonuses. There are a few signs that altered approach will pay dividends fairly soon.
Infielder Cristian Santana heads into his age 19 season looking to tackle High-A West Michigan as one of the organization’s top prospects. He was signed for a Tigers’ record $2.95 million bonus in 2021. Abel Bastidas, another interesting if less heralded infield prospect, was signed in the same period for $1.175 million. Santana and Bastidas were ranked 14th and 27th overall in their signing class at the time by MLB Pipeline.
Cuban born outfielder Roberto Campos was Avila’s biggest IFA acquisition prior to Santana, signed for $2.85 million in 2019. The power-hitting outfielder had a fairly good season at Low-A Lakeland as well and is likely sitting just outside the club’s top ten prospects on most rankings you’ll see this winter. The Tigers also have Wenceel Perez, who looks like a useful infielder after his 2022 breakout, and several good arms to work with. At minimum, things have improved, but there is still a long way to go.
For a multitude of reasons, including losing a lot of ballgames, the Tigers have had a better farm system in recent years than they’ve probably had since the 1970’s. Yet even stocked with five blue chip prospects as they were in 2020, the system was still shallow compared to better clubs. Their failings in the international market are a big reason why, and if Scott Harris is going to build a sustainable winner, they’ve got to do better. Hopefully they have a good international signing day, but it will take years to know for sure.